Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru was born in Allahabad, India in 1889, the first child of Motilal Nehru, a prosperous Brahman lawyer from Kashmir. After private tuition at home, he went to England at the age of 16 to study, first at Harrow and later at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in natural science. He then went on to gain a law degree from the Inner Temple.

During these formative years the young man developed strong nationalist principles - perhaps deepened through his acquaintance with supporters of the Irish Republican Movement. A voracious reader, he followed closely the progress of Gandhi's Indian National Congress, the principal nationalist organisation of India, of which his father was a member. Although at the time Motilal was more moderate than his son, both shared the vision of an independent India, free from British colonial rule.

Jawaharlal Nehru returned to India in 1912. After practising law for several years - and serving in the Allahabad High Court - he became more closely involved with Gandhi's campaign for home rule. In 1919 he joined the Indian National Congress and the following year both father and son gave up flourishing legal practices to follow the national movement. The family denounced the imported goods that were crippling the Indian economy, and risked beatings and imprisonment for participation in Gandhi's programme of civil disobedience and non-violent anti-colonial protest. Over the next three decades Jawarhal Nehru would spend close to ten years in prison for his part in such protests as he quickly became one of the leading figures in the nationalist movement.

In 1929 Nehru was elected president of the Indian National Congress, a position he would hold subsequently six times, and in 1942 he replaced Gandhi as the recognised leader of the National Congress party. During this time the continued protests of the independence movement, together with the moral and financial drain of the Second World War, were making British occupation of India increasingly untenable. Nehru became a chief negotiator for British withdrawal from India and in 1946 was invited to form an interim government to organise the transition to independence. One of the chief obstacles to this process was the call for separate states for Hindu and Muslim communities. Although Nehru, like Gandhi, was strongly opposed to such a partition, the campaign for a united India failed. A separate Muslim state known as Pakistan was founded. This was a deep and lasting disappointment to Nehru even as his other dreams were realised. In 1947 following the final withdrawal of the British, Nehru was elected prime minister of a self-governing India- an office he would hold until his death.

India became a republic in 1950 and it fell to Nehru to help steer the country through the difficult early years of independence. The massive influx of Hindu refugees from Pakistan and the integration of hundreds of princely states into the new political structure were enormous challenges to the new regime. Influenced by his attendance at the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in 1927 and a subsequent visit to Russia, his economic policies were socialist in leaning resulting in a period of rapid industrialisation and five-year planning. Defining India's foreign policy as anti-imperialist, anti-apartheid and anti-colonial, Nehru also believed in peaceful coexistence with nations of every political tendency. Advocating the rights of states to be independent of both the Soviet and Capitalist blocs, he was a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, together with Presidents Tito of Yugoslavia and Nasser of Egypt. Nehru was a much-loved statesman at home and increasingly influential in international circles. His death in 1964, following a stroke, plunged a nation into mourning. Known for his love of children - and given his extraordinary influence on their futures - Nehru's birthday is celebrated as Children's Day in India.